Minimalism

6 Tips to Stop Mindless Shopping

November 6, 2015

For most of my life, I had a problem with mindless shopping, which means I bought more than I could afford, I shopped emotionally or out of habit, and I bought things I didn’t really want or need.

I’ve been reminded of my compulsive shopping habit these past few weeks. I’m writing this post from the north of Thailand, where most nights I find myself exploring one of many fantastic night markets.

The atmosphere in the markets is amazing; carts selling spicy noodles and fruit shakes, travellers from all over the world roaming the streets, and stalls selling everything from handicrafts to fake designer handbags – all at rock bottom prices.

A few years ago, it would have been very difficult for me to visit one of these markets without going a bit crazy. I couldn’t walk by a stall of cheap t-shirts or handbags without adding a few to my collection. (After all, who can resist a bargain?) Well, definitely not me.

At least not the old me. At that point in my life, shopping was a mindless, compulsive habit and I didn’t have the skills to stop. Fortunately, a few years ago I discovered minimalism, and finally broke my lifelong shopping habit. (You can read the whole story of why I choose to live with less here.)

Here are 6 practical tips that have helped me immensely on my mission to stop mindless shopping and instead start being intentional and considerate about my purchases.

For most of my life, I had a problem with mindless shopping, which means I bought more than I could afford, I shopped emotionally or out of habit, and I bought things I didn’t really want or need. Here are 6 practical tips that have helped me immensely on my mission to stop mindless shopping and instead start being intentional and considerate about my purchases.

KNOW YOUR VALUES + PRIORITIES

Start by knowing what you really want in life – I mean the ‘big picture’ stuff. What are your values, priorities and dreams?

I asked myself this question a few years ago; I had an honest chat with myself about my priorities and realised one of the things I valued most was freedom.

It’s really important to me to have freedom to travel, freedom to quit a job that makes me unhappy, freedom to throw myself into passion projects or whatever opportunities may come my way.

Shopping (and owning too much stuff) kept me broke and tied down … the exact opposite of what I wanted out of life.

Once I realised this, it became a lot easier to stop shopping. It became less about willpower and ‘giving up’ shopping and more about choosing a life I really want instead. Now days, I ask myself “what do I want most” before making purchases.

TRAIN YOUR EYES TO LOOK FOR QUALITY

Let’s be honest – a lot of what we buy is very ordinary; poor quality t-shirts that lose their shape after one washing, icky fabrics that feel uncomfortable against your skin, and cheap designs that flatter no one.

So why are we buying it? Very clever visual marketing.

Crap stuff looks better when grouped together with other crap stuff and shops know this. They create bright, colorful displays, play trendy music, and we’re instantly distracted by the shiny stuff (Forever 21 and H&M are just a few great examples of this.)

Secondhand shops are full of these pieces; clothes that look gorgeous in the shop, but you wear them once or twice and then never again – because they don’t really feel or look good.

Look – I’ll be honest, sometimes I buy low quality clothes (although I try and get them secondhand.) Sometimes it’s convenience or even necessity (because it’s not easy to find good things!) But just be aware of it.

Train your eyes to see quality and you’ll automatically buy less. You’ll walk into a shop, feel a few fabrics, then turn around and walk right out.

KNOW YOUR STYLE

I’ve mentioned the value of truly knowing your style before, but it’s worth repeating.

When you’re not confident in your style, you want to buy every beautiful piece that catches your eye – whether it suits you or not.

However, once you fully know your style, you become a ruthless editor; it becomes easier to say no and walk away from pieces that don’t work for you and your wardrobe.

Knowing my style has taught me to say “That is a beautiful dress, but it’s not for me.” (And to then walk away.)

I used Pinterest to help define my style. You can check out my board here; I pin styles that appeal to me, but regularly go back and delete anything that doesn’t fit the overall aesthetic. This leaves me with a visual inspiration board of my style, which I can use as a reference.

If you need more help defining your style, check out this post from the gorgeous Daniella at Fox and Bloom.

KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS

Why do you shop? If you’re a problem shopper like I was, my guess is it’s rarely because you need something. Instead it might be:

  • Bordeom (“I’ll just kill some time …”)
  • Low self-esteem (“I look fat in everything I own, what I need is new jeans that make me look thin.”)
  • Fashion magazines and blogs (“Nothing I own is in style anymore!”)
  • Entitlement (the “I deserve it” mentality)

I’ve personally experienced everyone of these emotions/excuses for shopping.

In particular, I was really bad with the “I deserve it” mentality; I worked long hours and I would always stop at the shops on my lunch break or on my way home. I worked hard so I “deserved” something to cheer me up. (Of course, in reflection, I could have bought less and worked less instead!)

I also had a weak spot for fashion blogs, which often led to expensive online purchases. When I decided to stop shopping so much, I gave up fashion blogs because I knew they triggered my buying habit.

Whatever your triggers, learn to recognise them so you can take steps to counteract them. If you shop on your lunch break because you’re bored, find a yoga class or start bringing a book. If you shop because you read fashion blogs, delete them from your favourites and start reading minimalism blogs instead.

HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM

Find a supportive community. Like everything in life, it’s easier when you have people on your team – to celebrate your success and to keep you going when you slip up.

Find friends or family that you can talk to about your goals, or if it’s not something you feel comfortable talking about trying looking online (I’d recommend checking out the Project 333 Facebook group – Project 333 is a minimalist fashion project where you dress with only 33 items for 3 months!)

PLAN TO SHOP

We all shop because we all want and need things – myself definitely included. That is why this isn’t a post about how to stop shopping, it’s a post about stopping mindless shopping.

And my last tip for being purposeful and intentional about shopping is to plan to shop.

Most of the time, we know when we will want or need new things (the change of seasons, the holidays, special events.) If you plan your shopping ahead of time, you have time to think about your purpose and what you really need.

For example, I’m currently travelling around the world (with carry-on luggage only.) I know that I haven’t packed enough warm clothes, so I’ve made plans to go shopping when I get to Europe.

Because I’ve planned ahead, I have a good idea of what pieces I’ll need to update my wardrobe, so I’ll (hopefully) be able to avoid impulsive purchases.


RELATED POSTS

How I Became a Minimalist (Why I Choose to Live with Less)

How to Pack Carry-on Only – For a 7 Month Trip!


I’m not perfect and I won’t pretend I don’t occasionally buy something ‘just because’, but I’ve definitely come a loooong way from my old shopping habits.

I hope these tips will help you if you’re struggling with mindless shopping. I’d love to hear your stories – or if you have any of your own tips to add? Let me know in the comments! x

For most of my life, I had a problem with mindless shopping, which means I bought more than I could afford, I shopped emotionally or out of habit, and I bought things I didn’t really want or need. Here are 6 practical tips that have helped me immensely on my mission to stop mindless shopping and instead start being intentional and considerate about my purchases.

photo credit: Chelsea Francis // Used with permission

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  • Oh my goodness, I am sooooo guilty of the “I deserve this” excuse. I have to admit that even as recently as last year, I was a pretty compulsive shopper. I think that I started to change my ways largely as a result of becoming aware of my spending, and also definitely by reading Blonde on a Budget and thinking, huh, weird, this girl is really cool, and she chooses to only own one pair of jeans (three cheers for positive peer pressure!).
    I am definitely taking a look at your Pinterest page, as a) I can use all the help I can get with figuring out the whole clothing thing, and b) I can use all the help I can get with figuring out Pinterest! 🙂

    • Right?? I’m one of those people that can justify anything to myself, and “I deserve this” was my go to excuse. It’s soooo easy sometimes. But it’s so cool that reading Blonde on a Budget has such a positive effect on you, it’s funny how sometimes you read something at the right time and it all clicks! Thanks for commenting (and sorry yet again, I somehow missed all the comments on this page and I feel horrible!) x

  • I was so guilty of this when I was younger! I spent my paychecks acquiring “stuff”… It wasn’t until I got to a point where I looked back at the past 6 years of my life since I started working a job (with no expenses because my parents paid for a lot of my stuff then) with literally a bunch of useless STUFF to show for it and $0 in savings that I knew I needed to change. These are great tips even now that I think I’ve got my spending under control.

    • Hey Jaymee! I know … when I think of all the money I’ve wasted in my life … it makes me feel a bit sick. But you live and learn – better late than never. Thanks so much for commenting (and sorry for my slooooowwww response.)

  • I believe that many people struggle with this. Shopping gives us an endorphin high and we always think we deserve one more thing – regardless of how small or large the price. Great suggestions and advice.

    • Thanks so much for your comment Sheryl! I’m so sorry that I’ve only just seen it. It’s so true about that shopping high!! I’m glad you found my post helpful x

  • About 3 months ago I did an overhaul of my closet where I donated over 40% of my wardrobe. I was inspired by minimalist blogs and I wanted to simplify and decrease that decision fatigue in the morning. What I was surprised to find was that even though my closet was almost cut in half, I always had something to wear. I’m totally with you on cutting out fashion blogs from your daily blog reading. Before I decided to live a more minimalist lifestyle I devoured these blogs- in turn I went shopping every weekend.

    • Hi Erin! Somehow I missed all the comments on this page – so sorry! But thank you so much for sharing your story 🙂 I felt the same way when I cut down my wardrobe, I think it’s a common (yet surprising) result!

  • Nicola

    In terms of planning to shop, one thing I find helps a lot is online shopping. I can browse and bookmark clothes and give myself time to decide if they actually fit into my wardrobe and lifestyle before clicking the “Buy” button.

    Of course, there are some things it’s more hassle than it’s worth to buy online, like jeans and blouses and other fitted things, but for run-of-the-mill tops and casual skirts/dresses (basically anything with a bit of stretch or loose/flowy fit) I much prefer shopping online.

    • Thanks for the tip Nicola! I think they key for everyone is to find a system that allows you to ‘pause’ and – like you said – give yourself time to think before buying. One of my last really big purchases was a pair of boots and I think I ‘paused’ for nearly 6 months before buying them! They were expensive but I know I made the right decision because I’ve had them for 5 years and I still love them and wear them all the time! 🙂

      • Nicola

        YES. My Doc Martens cost a pretty penny when I got them 6.5(?) years ago, but they’re my go-to footwear from October to March, and they’ll carry me fine to the office, up a hill, and through the mud 🙂

    • That really helps me too. I can still get sucked into some mindless browsing though, and discover a whole bunch of stuff I never knew I “needed”. I often set the timer on my phone – it’s okay to browse, but for a short, pre-set time.

      • Setting a timer is a great idea! That way you can keep focussed on what you’re looking for, not just browsing for the sake of browsing ^_^

  • These are great tips. Mindless shopping is so easy! Two techniques that I use are delay (like planning to shop) and the Stranger Test before making impulse. They are great for getting me to stop and think before I buy. You can find out more about the techniques here – https://moretimethanmoney.co.nz/2015/05/17/is-fomo-ruining-your-money-mojo/

  • Caitlin Ava

    I love your posts so much, they have really begun to inspire me to begin my journey with minimalism. My only question is, how do you decide when you need to go shopping again? Do you have to throw something out that maybe isn’t getting the use it once did in order to buy a new piece?

    • Hi Caitlin!

      To start with, I think the best thing you can do is to implement a “cooling off” or waiting period before buying anything new. (For example, if you think you need a new coat, waiting 2 weeks or a month and try and make do without.) If at the end of your chosen timeframe, you still feel you really need something, it’s probably a sign you do – and if not, it was probably just an impulse purchase.

      Do for a while and eventually – you’ll get better at making decisions and won’t need to be so strict on yourself. (At least that’s what I found!) In general, I don’t think rules or “willpower” work in the longterm – instead, it has to be internally driven by your value and priorities.

      I hope this make sense! Thanks so much for reading and commenting – I really appreciate it!

      xx Jen